When I was nine, my dad had to attend a convention in Las Vegas and decided to take the rest of us with him. At the time, Las Vegas didn’t have kid-oriented attractions, but it was thrilling for us anyway. We stayed in a real hotel with high ceilings, ate BLTs for the first time, and called room service for ice cream. Since then, I think of Las Vegas as a place to avoid, and I only stopped there this week because it’s on the way (to wherever I am going, not sure actually). During this visit, my hotel was very nice, my Thai take-out was very greasy, and I learned that Las Vegas has some very cool non-casino attractions.
Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Canyon is a national conservation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management about 12 miles west of downtown Las Vegas. As its name suggests, its hills are red, formed from Aztec sandstone and limestone.
The park is very user-friendly. You can drive through the canyon on a 13-mile, one-way road, or ride a horse across the valley, or hike through hundreds of miles of trails. The park has lots of clean bathrooms, signage, and information about trails. It’s hard to believe the agency managing this park is the same one that approved the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. Apparently, at least some of the people at the Bureau of Land Management are passionate about wilderness and making it easy for the rest of us to enjoy it. Hurray for BLM! Both of them!
East Fremont in Downtown. Closer to the action, I explored a wonderful outdoor art gallery in Downtown Las Vegas. Downtown was once the center of upscale casinos, but lost its luster about 40 years ago when the big money started building glitzy hotels on The Strip. Eventually, the city responded by repurposing downtown as a cultural center. There is nothing glamorous about it, but the East Fremont neighborhood in downtown is full of slightly offbeat businesses (mostly closed during the pandemic), original casino signage, and, best of all, public art.
These murals have a joyful presence and keep you walking, because you know you will find a surprise around every corner.
Valley of Fire. My sister Laura suggested I visit the Valley of Fire, a remote state park 40 miles east of Las Vegas, so I stopped there on my way east for a nearly-perfect, easy hike. The Valley of Fire is another geologic spectacle, with deep red sandstone hills. I chose a trail through a canyon with hundreds of 4,000 year-old petroglyphs.
Petroglyphs and other evidence of human settlements are very popular at sites like these — with me and most visitors. During my hike, I started thinking about why that is. We seem to want to connect with people who once lived in these spiritual places. We feel a sense of mystery in the presence of ancient artifacts that seems connected to something mysterious in ourselves. Or something.
Genetic memory of the universe…